5 Steps to Driving Creativity

Though he was speaking to an audience of association executives, entrepreneur and speaker Josh Linkner’s presentation this morning at NAR’s AE Institute in San Diego, Calif., was applicable to anyone who works in real estate. Linkner, who has started and invested in a number of technology companies over the past two decades, says a problem plaguing not only this industry but the entire business world is a lack of creative thinking.

According to Linkner, virtually everyone has some capacity for creativity. However, from an early age, this instinct is suppressed by external forces — particularly school and work. “Our creativity is declining,” he says. “We don’t grow into creativity, we’re growing out of it. The lesson society teaches us is to not be creative, just do what your told and don’t take risks.”

This is a huge issue, though, because creativity and innovation have become more critical than ever before. In a recent survey of 1,500 CEOs around the world, creativity was cited as the most important attribute of leadership today, Linkner says. Moreover, the tendency to do things the way they’ve always been done and avoid taking chances is a recipe for disaster in a rapidly changing business environment.

“Playing it safe has become the riskiest move of all,” he explains. “If you run that game plan in the real world, it’s a surefire path to mediocrity.”

In his presentation, Linkner offered the following five tips for people who want to accelerate their business through creativity:

1. Encourage Courage: Linkner says fear is the single biggest blocker of creativity — specifically fear of making mistakes. That’s a dangerous mentality. “Mistakes are not fatal,” he says. “Mistakes are the portal to discovery.” Instead, you should cultivate an environment in which both ideas are shared openly without judgement. Good ideas should be celebrated, of course, but bad ideas shouldn’t be rejected immediately and unceremoniously.

2. Get Curious: “The more curious you are, the more creative you’ll become,” Linkner says. Instead of racing to answers, you should ask questions, he adds. The best questions are variations of: Why? What if? Why not? That will help you think differently about things and challenge conventional wisdom.

3. Shed the Past: On this point, Linkner offered Polaroid as an example. He says the downfall of the company came because top brass rejected new ideas because it would cannibalize the company’s core business. “What they should have been focusing on was becoming the cannibal,” Linkner says. In other words, the company should have realized that a major new development would threaten its existing business model. Why wouldn’t they have wanted that game-changing idea to come from within?

4. Reject Bureaucracy: Organizational structure and hierarchy that shuts down new ideas is an “insidious force that attacks all organizations,” Linkner explains. People become so obsessed with rule-following that they reject both logic and human understanding. The antidote to this is to think small. That doesn’t mean don’t have big ideas, he says, but rather thinking like a start-up. That entails embracing risk, having a sense of urgency, accepting ideas no matter where they come from, and finding ways to be more nimble.

5. Run Your Own Race: “In nature, animals flock together for safety,” Linkner says. “In the business world, that’s a horrible idea.” Instead of constantly chasing trends in your business, find ways that help distinguish your organization and what it offers to consumers from your competitors.

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at bsummerfield@realtors.org.

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